Debris Removal

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Businesses are advised to acquaint themselves with local policies and practices that would apply in the event of a disaster and prepare accordingly. Some issues for consideration are:

  • In addition to having far reaching logistical and economic implications, large-scale debris situations are also invariably accompanied by a range of health, safety and legal repercussions.
  • Disasters generate tremendous volumes of debris. It is said that in a matter of minutes, Hurricane Andrew produced the equivalent of 15 years worth of solid waste in the Homestead, Florida area. Dealing with such massive quantities of waste, local pickup carriers and dump sites quickly become overwhelmed. As part of their community emergency management plans, many municipalities have contingency contracts with large debris management firms who specialize in disaster recovery support.
  • Costs incurred by municipalities for post-disaster debris management are largely reimbursable from federal assistance funds provided established guidelines are closely followed. The nature and extent of the services you can expect contracted disaster debris removal organizations to provide will depend largely on what service costs are reimbursable. Contractors are not obligated to carry non-reimbursable items. Trucks and their contents entering designated dump sites are closely monitored and measured as part of the reimbursement validation process.
  • Municipalities differ in terms of how they handle debris management. It is important that business owners understand the capabilities, limitations, plans and policies of their local municipal disaster debris management program, what services can and cannot be expected, what can be done to assist/simplify/expedite the process, and what responsibilities they must take on themselves. It is also important that businesses clearly understand whether and to what extent their property insurance covers some or all of the disaster-related debris removal costs they might incur.
  • One recurring debate involves disaster debris removal from private property such as industrial parks. Even where regular curbside garbage and trash pickup services are already provided on what is technically private property, it should not be assumed disaster-related curbside debris will be automatically picked up. Because the policy is generally not to enter private property, businesses are cautioned not to wait until a disaster occurs to resolve this issue. Get clarification from your local emergency manager and waste management departments on whether you can expect emergency curbside debris removal services on your private property and make necessary arrangements today to avoid confusion later.
  • Municipalities, in conjunction with their contractors and state and federal agencies, will probably establish a specific time period within which waste will be treated as disaster-related debris. The period of time selected is likely to vary depending on the magnitude of damage in the community and the removal resources available.
  • Instructions may be issued for sorting curbside debris into categories such as garbage, trash, vegetation, etc. or it may be sorted later at a transfer station or temporary dump site. Sometimes regular garbage and trash pickup services are continued by local services while disaster-related debris pickup is given to contracted contingency services which have special equipment and experience.
  • Ensure you comply with the plans and instructions in order to avoid unnecessary rework or delay in the removal process. Make sure that debris is piled according to issued guidelines, doesn't block access to businesses, service vehicles and workers, and doesn't create avoidable safety or health exposures.
  • Post-disaster debris usually falls into the following categories and arrives curbside in the following order:
    • Tree branches and other vegetative debris to clear access
    • Other exterior debris
    • Damaged building contents (furniture, fixtures, carpet, etc.)
    • Garbage items (unusable food items, other waste products)
    • Damaged structural materials
    • Toxic/Hazardous materials
Rebuilding construction debris is the responsibility of the business property owner. Building contractors and repair services are sometimes hired without arrangements being made for disposing of their scrap materials and other construction debris. These items sometimes end up piled curbside in anticipation they will get carted off by someone else along with disaster-related debris. Since this debris results from new construction, not disaster damage, municipalities will not be reimbursed for its disposal and haulers are likely to leave it behind (with any other items mixed with it). New construction debris is the business owner's responsibility. If you enter into a contract with a building contractor or repair service, stipulate that they are responsible for disposing of waste they generate. Otherwise you may have to arrange for and absorb the cost of debris removal yourself. With larger jobs, the contractor should provide waste containers as part of the contract.


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